Thursday, November 5, 2009

Background Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 8

Last night at Missio Dei, we discussed 1 Corinthians 8. I wanted to post some of the background issues of the passages as we dealt with its impact on our lives today.

The topic: Food sacrificed to idols. In the worship of the pagans in Corinth, the people would bring their sacrifices to the priests at the temples of their chosen gods. (It might be a god that oversaw their craft, it may have been a fertility god, it may have been a healing god). The priest would use the animals in the sacrifice and would have plenty of meat left over. The left over meat would then be brought out to the tables of the temples and they would have meals in these temples. The leftovers there would then be sold in the marketplace. The Jews were absolutely forbidden to eat such food. For many of the gentiles, the availability of this meat was a rare occasion but a welcome one. Imagine this: the meat portion of your diet was fish. It was the only thing you could afford. But, when the pagan feast days came around, there was plenty of meat available. The catch was: it was probably offered to a pagan god in sacrifice. You may encounter this in perhaps three ways:

1) You are tired of eating salted and pickled fish, and now there was this buyer’s market of fresh meat.

2) You may be invited to a feast meal at a pagan sacrifice, invited perhaps by your boss or business associate or fellow craftsmen

3) You may be invited to eat at a friend or associate’s house where they may be serving meat that was once sacrificed to a pagan god.

Paul was dealing with two types of people: those who had no problem eating this meat and those who didn’t like it at all. Either they were Jews who had been forbidden since birth from eating this meat or it was new converts who felt very ill at ease doing something that put them into their old pagan context. Paul characterizes these two groups as “strong” and “weak”.

Imagine this: a “weak” believer is walking along the courtyard of a pagan temple. All of a sudden he hears a voice from one of the dining rooms: “Come and join us!” He turns to see a group, among who are one or two of the Strong, eating. His employer or someone he cannot afford to offend is dining also.

He is revolted by the idea of eating idol meat, but what can he offer as an excuse? The presence of the strong makes it impossible to decline on the grounds that his new faith would not permit it. Anything less would be an insult to powerful individuals. Paul saw that, in such circumstances, the weak person would give in and participate in the feast, even though he was being forced to act against his conscience. Internally, however, he was being torn apart...

Paul sees that this act would have had horrible internal impact on the weak believer. He calls it being “destroyed”. The word here “apollutai” is a very serious thing. Being destroyed means to be eternally lost. Same sense as John 3.16. Anything that could be deemed as “destructive” to a fellow believer could not be an act of love. Paul here, instead of calling this a person with a weak conscience instead calls this person a “brother/sister” for whom Christ died.” It was destructive of the Church, and thus a sin against Jesus himself. There was the fear of a former idolater falling back into the grips of idolatry. They may return to their former way of life and be lost all because of the influence of those who were led by their “head” (knowledge) and not by their “hearts” (love).

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